And now, the last in our series of articles on the non-roster invitees to Toronto Blue Jays Spring Training: who they are and how they’re going to fit within the organization in 2016.
To recap, a non-roster invitee is just that: a player who isn’t on the club’s 40-man roster but has been invited to big league spring training. This is a common designation for players who have signed minor league contracts but are expecting to be able to compete for a spot on the big league team. In addition to actually competing for big league spots, you’ll see some of the club’s prospects who are within reach of the majors getting an audition for a potential call up at some point in the year. You’ll also see some prospects who are a little further away from the majors getting a chance to show what they can do with a bigger spotlight on them. Few NRIs end up making the club but last year had both Roberto Osuna and Miguel Castro getting added to the 40-man roster at the end of spring training. Remember that all players on the 40-man roster (including the two who were added to protect them from the Rule 5 draft, Blake McFarland and Brady Dragmire) are automatically invited to spring training.
There are only three non-roster outfielders invited by the Blue Jays to spring training and it shows that this is where the club has some depth, particularly at the major league level. With Jose Bautista, Kevin Pillar, Dalton Pompey, Michael Saunders and Ezequiel Carrera all on the 40-man roster, the Jays didn’t have to go out and sign a large group of minor league free agents to fill some gaps.
All three of three of the outfielders are expected to start the season at Double-A New Hampshire or a higher level. Anthony Alford is the consensus number one prospect in the Blue Jays organization after having a fantastic season (and a huge depletion of pitching talent). For Alford, 2015 was his first as a full-time baseball player; a season that actually started in the winter when he played in the Australian Baseball League to try to jump start his baseball career. The Mississippian didn’t have the best statistical season in Australia but truned things on after a delayed start to his regular season (thanks to a minor injury). Still, he began his year with the Lansing Lugnuts on April 21 and didn’t look back, hitting /.293/.418/.394 with Lansing and .302/.380/.444 with Dunedin with around 250 plate appearances at each level. I wouldn’t expect to see Alford make the bigs any time before September because I think he needs another full year of playing time before his bat is ready. He’s known for being a hard worker and having that hunger in his belly for the majors but he still needs to turn some of his raw power into in-game power and the Jays could tweak his swing to give him a little more loft, requiring a little more development time.
Second on the list is Roemon Fields, who was the talk of the town last year. The 25-year-old was working for the post office after his collegiate career before he was spotted at a tournament in British Columbia. Signed in last 2013, Fields had a great debut season in Vancouver and rose through three levels in 2015. Fields has been praised by the Jays’ minor league hitting coordinator Mike Barnett for his coachability and work ethic and his speed is near the top of the organization. Still, Fields saw diminishing power numbers and BABIP as he rose through the organization and his ISO being at .035 over 225 plate appearances in New Hampshire raises questions as to whether he can hit the ball hard enough with consistency to be effective at the highest levels of the game. Still, if he’s a coachable as Barnett says, Fields could very well overcome that obstacle with another season of learning.
Finally, Dwight Smith, Jr. gets an invite. At the age of 23, Smith appeared to take a step back last year in Double-A New Hampshire. After a full season in Dunedin in which he showed off great power (hitting .284/.363/.453 with 12 home runs), he stagnated a bit in 2015, hitting .265/.335/.376 with just seven home runs. While not a bad season by any means, I think fans had gotten their hopes up for a big year in a better hitter’s league for Smith. My own projection for Smith is a bit of a tossup between a Buffalo and a New Hampshire assignment, depending on the competition on the big club.
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The 2016 Toronto Blue Jays Minor League Handbook is coming this spring! Stay tuned for more information coming!
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